The Power of Pickups in Product Photography

by Matt Harris

‘Pickup shots are powerful weapons in the arsenal of the retoucher – enriching the realism of product photography, but without the hefty price tag.’

Sometimes, something’s missing

As product photography experts, we often get called upon to shoot subjects with specified elements that are flawed or missing. Sometimes the latest model of a car isn’t available to shoot on the day, or it’s still in production. This can be huge challenge to the retoucher. But when handled with the right approach, the solution is often easier than one might think.

The Pick-Up Shot in Product Photography

Rather than lose precious campaign days finding an exact model, we instead ‘make’ our own replacement. We get access to the correct element and focus on it in isolation, and shoot using mobile studio lights and screens, which eliminates the expense of studio hire. Taking care to adjust angle and focal length to match the original image, this pickup shot gives our retouchers the flexibility they need to substitute the missing piece, complete with believable lighting and perspective. Where illustrating the missing part from scratch can take days, and cost thousands, an expedient pickup shoot can be finished in under an hour – for far better results at only a fraction of the price.

The Hyundai Kona

Our friends at Hyundai in Macquarie Park recently tasked us with retouching this image of a Kona prior to production. Do you notice anything strange or wrong?

Product Photography

If you look closely, you’ll see the wheels look like two-dimensional cutouts. Once seen, this flaw is hard to unsee. It undermines the integrity of the product photography as a whole, and makes our client look bad. But rather than start again with a new shoot just to get the right wheels, we can instead superimpose a better option using pickup shots of wheels with the right specification.

In this particular job, the wheel was supplied on its own and we shot it in our own studio, allowing us to match the lighting as required and in very short order. This way we were able to substitute a thoroughly believable “transplant” with relative ease. Of course, we still need skill our keen eye for proportion. But in doing this, we greatly reduce the need for illustration, significantly easing our task.

Product Photography

A Touch of Magic

Once obtained, the process is smooth sailing. Using the pen tool in Photoshop, we trace the pickup wheel to select it, then duplicate it onto the original image. Adjusting the size and placement of the new wheels, we can superimpose the new element with care to match the desired positioning.

All that remains is to blend the added element through adjustment of tone and colour balance, so that it looks as though it was always there. Using a semi-transparent version of the original, we can position and even subtly distort this new segment until it fits seamlessly into the rest of the body. The eye will not pick up on this subtlety, but a good retoucher’s talent lies in knowing how much they can bend the rules. By working in layers, we avoid wrecking the base image if a mistake is made – a technique known as ‘non-destructive editing.’ Once positioned correctly, we make the necessary tonal adjustments until the new wheel looks like it was always there.

Through an expedient pickup shoot and judicious retouching, this image is now perfect, and all without the expense and hassle of a complete reshoot.

Product Photography


The same technique that resurrected this Kona, can be used to ‘save’ any product. Pickup shots are powerful weapons in the arsenal of the photographer – enriching the realism of your image, but without a hefty price tag.

All images and content are from our team
here at Studio Nero.

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